Focus Group

★★★★★

Review By Sarah Tinsley

Savage, hilarious, a brutal unravelling of the fluffy reassurances that modern life provides.

Ever fancied being in a focus group? You know, the dreadful prospect of sitting on substandard office furniture under acidic fluorescent lights while ticking away your personality on a sliding scale? No, me neither. Yet Toot Theatre manage to make the experience both enjoyable and very revealing. If the thought of interactive theatre is something you’re not quite sure about, this is probably the most unthreatening and inclusive one I’ve experienced. Inspired by David Foster Wallace’s short story Mister Squishy, Focus Group gives us a refreshing interactive performance and a dark vision of modern life.

We all know a Terry. A well-meaning type who somehow blends into the background no matter what his surroundings are. A man who harbours dreams of being popular, or charismatic, or interesting, but always finds himself falling short. Desperate to please and make a real connection, Terry finds his market research work is increasingly a little empty, and starts to be disturbed by visions and flashes of a surreal nature.

And we’re the guinea pigs. The clever staging allows the audience to be both participant and voyeur, prey and predator. Together, we watch the unravelling of the consumer-fed world that Terry inhabits.

The unsettling moments and slick changes of pace and direction wouldn’t be possible without Jackie Shemesh’s impressive stage and lighting design. Sometimes leaving us feeling disorientated, at other times under scrutiny, the flickering lamps fit perfectly with the shifting state of Terry’s psyche.

Terry (also his real name) is both delightful and uncomfortable to watch. At times warm and friendly, at others uncomfortably needy, his performance brings a strange mix of pity and shame, as his misgivings and uncertainties are all too recognisable. Alongside him are Stu and Clare, both just a little bit out of reach. They perfectly embody what is both mundane and uncomfortable about other people, raising awkward questions about the possibility of human connection.

Be prepared to laugh – A lot. But also to leave a little disturbed by the plasticity of our lives, and the show of self that is all too often a misguided act. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself mulling it over when you least expect it the following day.

Stark and funny, a brief slide into the dark side, accompanied by cake.

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